The British Civil Service: Perspectives on 'Decline' and 'Modernisation'

Robert Pyper, June Burnham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


This article was stimulated by the contradiction between two predominant characterisations of the British civil service. Some analysts see it as in decline, possibly terminally, overwhelmed by the challenges posed by the reforms and the changes in its policy environment; others see it as in the vanguard by adopting modernising reforms and adapting to new public service values. After critically examining these opposing perspectives on civil service 'decline' and 'modernisation', we conclude that these contrasting analyses suffer from adopting too limited a view of the British civil service in its historical and international context. The British civil service has during its long history progressively modernised and in a progressive way-becoming less corrupt, more accountable, more pluralist, more responsive to citizens' needs-often sceptical about reform, but nevertheless moving with the times.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-205
JournalThe British Journal of Politics & International Relations
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2011


  • civil service
  • modernisation
  • Whitehall
  • reform


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